By Austin Kaluba
Whenever I hear a song or poem romanticizing everything African, my blood runs cold because just like Europe, Africa has got its own share of social ills both man-made or externally orchestrated.
A classic example of this unbridled idealistic praise for the continent is found in most songs sang by Rastafarian musicians who paint Africa as if it was some Utopia , Nirvana or Shambala.
Rastafarians using their belief which I consider to be an escapist faith have deafened our ears by romanticizing Africa likening her to an innocent, beautiful and unblemished woman.
Their better informed counterparts-the writers mostly poets also consider Africa as a virgin or a Madonna usually depicted as a mother holding her children in loving arms.
I feel this symbolism to be misleading and highly fantastical considering the other side of Africa that is just the opposite of what singers and writers depict.
For Rastafarian singers maybe we can partially blame the glorification of Africa since most of them hail from wretched backgrounds in the Jamaican ghettos a background that would make them look elsewhere for an ideal heaven on earth.
For African writers, many who were influenced by the first crop of nationalists and negritude writers who used Africanness to fight Western norms indiscriminately, the idealization of Africa manifests in some of their works.
These negritude nationalists and writers included Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore, Leopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere and our own Kenneth Kaunda (remember those Kentes he used to wear).
Even when the nationalistic fervour was in the air in the 60’s, some African thinkers like Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka and exiled South African writer the late Ezekiel Mphalele were nauseated by the venerating of everything African.
Wole Soyinka’s famed outburst about the tiger and the tigritude is one classic example of reminding the dreamy poets that it was folly for them to deafen the world on who we are as Africans.
The late South African Eskia Mpahlele was so outspoken in his evaluation of Negritude in the 60s that he was in due course forced to defend himself against charges of “hindering or frustrating the protest literature of negritude and its mission”.
Hence, in his 1963 essay entitled, “On Negritude in Literature”, Mpahlele avers that his hostility to that Francophonic body of work is based on the fact that:
“Too much of the poetry inspired by it romanticizes Africa-as a symbol of innocence, purity, and artless primitiveness. I feel insulted when some people imply that Africa is not also a violent continent. I am a violent person and proud of it because it is often a healthy human state of mind; someday I’m going to plunder, rape, set things on fire, I’m going to cut somebody’s throat; I’m going to subvert a government; I’m going to organize a coup d’etat; yes, I’m going to oppress my own people; I’m going to hunt the rich fat black men who bully the small weak black men and destroy them; I’m going to become a capitalist, and woe to all who cross my path or who want to be my servants or chauffeurs and so on; I’m going to lead a breakaway church there is money in it; I’m going to attack the black bourgeoisie while I cultivate a garden, rear dogs and parrots; listen to jazz and classics, read “culture”, and so on. Yes, I’m going to organize a strike. Don’t you know that sometimes I kill to the rhythm of drums and cut the sinews of a baby to cure it of paralysis? This is only a dramatization of what Africa can do and is doing. The image of Africa consists of all these, and others. And negritude poetry pretends that they do not constitute the image and leaves them out. So we are told only half-often even a falsified half-of the story of Africa.”
I feel this quote from Mphahlele’s essay is closer to the Africa I know not the romanticized elusive one I hear about in songs or read in fairy-tale literature.